David Brog is executive director of the Maccabee Task Force, which was created in 2015 to combat the spread of anti-Semitism on America’s college campuses. It is funded by philanthropists Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. A lawyer, Brog previously served as executive director of Christians United for Israel and served as chief of staff for the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. The project began on six campuses and will be expanding to 80 this year.
Q: How were the campuses chosen?
A: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson wanted to bring support to those campuses facing the most serious BDS challenges. They were deeply disturbed that in America today there were Jews who were concerned about being publicly pro-Israel — and in some cases even pro-Jewish. … The Adelsons’ first priority was to clean up the swamp and make sure that pro-Israel students could be proud in an open way.
How widespread is this problem?
There may be 50 to 60 campuses like that in America. This year, we are using other criteria in determining where else to go. We will be going to around 20 campuses that produce the largest share of tomorrow’s leaders and influencers. Even if there is not active BDS there, almost all have professors who are very hostile to Israel and there is a strong need to share the truth about Israel. We will also be going to about five campuses in Canada that are facing BDS challenges.
When you started in 2016, you spoke with other groups to learn which programs and projects had worked and which didn’t. After two years of work, what have you learned?
We have been able to take the best ideas from each campus and share them with the others. Each of our campuses come to us with ideas, we fund them and if they are ineffective we don’t invest more.
We supported this year some 20 events [on each campus], if not more. We offer not only support but strategies that will reflect what we have found to be most effective in doing the 20 events. It’s a lot of trial and error to learn what really works out there.
What does all of this cost?
We never get into specific numbers, but most of the action plans cost in the low six figures for each campus. When we go to a campus, we don’t go in a small way. … We don’t ask that our logo or our name be put on anything that we suggest or fund. Ultimately it is the students who are doing the bulk of the work and deserve ownership and credit.
How did Israel’s adoption of the nation-state law impact your efforts?
It hasn’t, because we don’t take positions on issues that divide our community. Students for Justice in Palestine might distort the bill into another talking point and build an anti-Israel narrative that is so greatly at odds with the reality of Israel. Lying about Israel makes our job much easier. All we have to do is tell the truth and we win…
We make very clear we only want to support areas of consensus in the pro-Israel community. You don’t have to think Israel is perfect to defend it from the lies being told about Israel. Within our own community we can always debate what we think Israel should be doing differently.
You have said that the way to convince students to support Israel is not through facts alone but by the tone you take. What did you mean?
If our starting presumption is the false presumption that only perfect nations have the right to exist, then I think we would make the mistake that other groups make when it comes to Israel — and our starting position would be one of seeking to excuse and apologize for Israel. We take a very different approach. Our approach is that whatever you think of Israel, Israel is among the most moral nations on the planet and is dealing with some of the most challenging circumstances in the most impressive of ways. Whether or not you think Israel is handling its challenges perfectly is irrelevant. Our starting position is one of pride, support and correcting the record about the lies being told.
All but three of the 40 campuses you worked on last year have stopped supporting pro-BDS resolutions. What happened with the three?
Two of them had yet to do the bulk of our program, including our 10-day trip to Israel. Without a doubt, it is the most effective of the things we offer — and it is the most expensive. We offer each campus spots for 25 students. We recommend they take three to five pro-Israel students, together with 15-20 campus leaders and influencers who very often are not pro-Israel and have supported BDS. So far, they have come back understanding that this is a complex conflict and that they should not be blaming one side and one side only for the conflict, which is exactly what BDS does.
You have said that Students for Justice in Palestine presents a very simplistic approach in their demonization of Israel. How do you counter that?
All we need to do is show the reality of Israel. That is why our trips are so very effective.